The referendum on whether the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union or leave has been fascinating to watch in a purely detached kind of way. Not that the results will have zero effect on us — the British pound is already getting hammered in the Far East markets — but it’s an election that we don’t have any direct stake in. So it’s a little easier to sit back and enjoy the theater of it.
We don’t really have national referendums here in the States. The Constitution doesn’t allow for it. The closest we come to it is when an amendment is up for ratification, and even then, it’s not a national popular vote. Some states do it on a smaller scale, but we’ve never had a situation where a major piece of national policy was the subject of a vigorous campaign and a public vote. So there’s definitely a novelty aspect at play.
But there’s also a touch of “Oh those wacky Brits.” Much like with traditional theater, Britain seems to have a leg up on political theater as well. Sure, C-SPAN can be fascinating, but Prime Minister’s Questions beats that all the hell. You could probably count on one hand the number of presidents who could have handled getting grilled by Congress on live TV on a regular basis, but the British prime ministers do it all the time. And they tend not to pull any punches either. Even their parliamentary sessions in general are much more witty, contentious, and compelling than our two houses. And now we get to watch ever city and village and hamlet line up to vote on whether or not the UK kicks the EU to the curb? That’s must see TV.
And, compared to some of the issues we’ve been seeing our legislature debate, a little political theater feels like a welcome relief. Not that leaving the EU won’t have a seismic impact on the UK, but it doesn’t feel quite the same as listening to a debate about guns or civil rights. And honestly, everything sounds more entertaining with a British accent.